I often read articles about what it takes to be successful at SEO. Content, Links, and Social are all the usual suspects. But the one thing that is constantly overlooked is a sound technical understanding. And I think this is where many SEOs are lacking, and to me the one benchmark that often shines a light on the pretenders. Here are some reasons why more than average technical skill is needed to make a page rank.
#1 Know How To Avoid a Hack –
I know it sounds so simple, right? But hacked websites are now denoted in the Google listings. See my example to the right. Who is going to click though to that site or pick them as their web host? How damaging is this? And it takes several weeks to process a re-inclusions request. Depending on the depth of the hack, you may have errant pages published to a directory that you end up with many bad links pointing to you. Some day I’m going to write a WordPress Security Survival guide, but one of the best tips I can give in the meantime is to keep your WordPress install up to date. A hacked website will definitely cause you problems, and having a good tech background will help you.
#2 Understand WordPress Plug In and Themes and the Impact They Have on Your Website
WordPress is a great, but it sometimes allows designers to exceed their expertise and sell a bad product to their client. Over bloating with plug-ins makes the site run slow. Simply cleaning up the saved copies of your posts will speed things up. But when there are too many plugins the site runs slow, and Google does not like slow running websites. Plugins also make more ways for your site to get hacked (Yoast has this last year), so it makes a lot to keep up with.
But even bigger is themes. You truly have to watch 3rd party themes. They are often bloated and have embedded links back to their own site that you can’t see unless you turn the style sheets off. Firefox still allows you to do that, and it’s a very easy thing to check. When I have done this on sites we are bidding I have found all sorts of trash. One in particular was funny because it had a built-in address in the stylesheet that had the address as the MilkyWay Galaxy and links to Apple. This was hurting that companies website as they asked me why they don’t rank here in Houston.
#3 A Programmer Can Make or Break You
I love to tell stories, because they always highlight the points I’m trying to make. And after 18 years, boy do I have alot of them! So, I have a customer who has about 350,000 products on his website, and it used to knock it out of the park on SEO. Now they wrote the site custom, it used Windows, and I think the last time the code was updated was 2003. So he hired an outside firm to rebuild this site, and he knew enough that the 301s needed to be set. But he never verified that they were working. So he flipped the site in May and by August the traffic was off by about 60%. So he calls us to see if we can help him. Yup, never checked that the 301s were being issued correctly on the server. The pages refreshed to the right place, but were issuing the 301s.
Many times Web Designers don’t even do a 301. Those are amateurs, in my opinion. I can’t tell you how many people walk though my SBDC class saying that they had a website that ranked really well and they converted it, made it mobile friendly, which is code speak for moved it in to WordPress, and the entire site vanishes from Google.
I think we are very fortunate because we came of age in this industry. My system admin is a programmer too, and he not only helps ferret out code issues, but he makes the server dance. I can’t begin to tell you all the problems he fixes either with web servers, bad coding, or customers that are a bit befuddled as to what they are to do. I have customers that circumvent their own in-house people and come to Charlie first.
#4 Your Web Host Can Also Make or Break You
I always have trouble addressing this because I constructed a whole web hosting company because no one would do what I wanted and how I wanted it done. So maybe that tells you my opinion of web hosting companies. But let’s talk examples for a second because I don’t want this to be an infomercial for us.
- I have an SEO company in Tampa that uses us because Google picks sites up and caches pages through us almost instantaneously. This company had tried Network Solutions (web.com), Godaddy, HostGator, and no matter what, by simply moving a site to us the site ranked and cached.
- I took in a new client in the fall that flipped his site to WordPress and lost all his rankings. There really wasn’t anything wrong on the surface, other than out of 200 pages Google only picked up about 10 pages. He was with GoDaddy, and after a little digging, the server the guy was on had an overseas website on it and sites used for mail distribution. He moved to us and 199 out of 200 pages were indexed, with no other change made.
Because all we care about is Google, we built a great neighborhood. We don’t host porn, we don’t allow email distribution lists, we have firewalls that sit in front of the whole network that not only don’t allow the bad stuff in, it doesn’t let bad stuff out either. And then beyond that, I often see on SEO boards people trying to figure out ‘apache’ type things. Error in a 301 redirect. Site throwing a 403. And a myriad of other things that make you look bad. At most hosting companies your problems are your problems. Make sure your web host is willing to help you solve these problems or make sure you have in-house people that actually know how to do these things, where as we have run in to that too.
There are so many things that I do over the course of a day that I take for granted that require me to have a great tech background when it comes to SEO. I watch logs in real-time to help with conversion and to spot errors. This weekend I started to migrate an old website of ours and moved 40 pages, set up 40 301s directly in the .htaccess file. I know every page I’ve moved is issuing the right 301. I found several 403 errors that I need to fix. I have a few other places where the domain is appending itself to the end of the URL and creating 404 errors. These are all things that if left unfixed would affect how my site ranks, and most people don’t know how to find them let alone fix them. I truly believe that the SEO company needs to be a full-service company that understands all aspects from the pretty paint job on the website to what’s under the hood on the server level.